Waiting for Serhiy

Waiting for Serhiy

His makes an attempt to flee the Russian siege had failed. He and his fellow Ukrainian marines had been surrounded, dozens of miles from pleasant strains. They had been almost out of meals and water. Some panicked, others quietly resigned themselves to what would come subsequent.

Then, a couple of day later, Serhiy Hrebinyk, a senior sailor, and his comrades emerged from their closing holdout contained in the sprawling Ilyich Iron and Steel Works within the southern Ukrainian metropolis of Mariupol. He rapidly messaged his older sister: “Hi Anna. Our brigade surrenders in captivity in the present day. Me too. I don’t know what’s going to occur subsequent. I like you all.”

That was April 12, 2022.

Nearly two years later, on the second anniversary of the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Serhiy, now 24, stays in captivity as a prisoner of conflict, held someplace in Russia. His household sits in purgatory, trapped between that day in April and the current.

The preliminary panicked flurry of calls and visits to the Red Cross, the Ukrainian army and native officers rapidly subsided; official proof of life took months to come back. The conflict dragged on, and now, like 1000’s of different Ukrainian households with family members in captivity, the Hrebinyks wait.

“Life, after all, has modified. Almost each day is stuffed with tears,” Svitlana Hrebinyk, Serhiy’s mom, stated from her front room this month.

Waiting is as a lot the Hrebinyks’ conflict because the one audible from their dwelling in Trostyanets, a city in northeastern Ukraine. Their modest single-story home isn’t removed from the Russian border, the place they’ll typically hear the whine of drones or the echo of distant explosions.

They move the times as greatest they’ll till Serhiy comes dwelling. Svitlana regularly goes to church along with her two daughters, Anna and Kateryna. They pray for his return and good well being. Anna and Kateryna get up every day and scour messages on Russian channels on Telegram, hoping for the sight of him on the fringe of a blurry image or in a video. Their father, Ihor, checks Facebook teams, the place volunteers share updates on Ukrainian prisoners of conflict.

“Sometimes I believe that possibly this occurred to different folks,” stated Svitlana, 48. “And then I ask: ‘Why Serhiy? Why did he need to be captured?’” The Ukrainian authorities stated 3,574 Ukrainian army personnel had been in captivity as of November.

April 12, 2022, was a good looking day on the outskirts of Trostyanets, 260 miles northwest of Mariupol. The solar was up. Winter had lastly retreated, as had the city’s Russian occupiers after the Kremlin’s failed makes an attempt to seize Kyiv, the capital. Just two weeks earlier, Trostyanets had been liberated by Ukrainian troops after a short, however intense, battle that broken the hospital and ravaged the practice station, the place Svitlana has labored for 26 years.

But down south, Russian forces had been ending their brutal siege of Mariupol.

“There was a sense that the conflict would quickly be over. And then the message got here. I learn it, and I used to be speechless,” Anna recounted this month, sitting beside her mom. “We all began crying.”

More than 1,000 marines from the thirty sixth brigade had been taken captive in Mariupol, the Russian Defense Ministry introduced the subsequent day, April 13. Roughly a month later, the Russian siege of town ended when the final Ukrainian defenders lastly surrendered.

Anna, 27, despatched a message, however her little brother was gone, stripped of his belongings as a combatant. His tenure as a prisoner of conflict had begun.

“Serhiy, we love you,” she despatched. “Everything will probably be okay.”

Almost two years after Serhiy’s seize, the Hrebinyks have educated themselves to endure his absence by constructing a routine, however that was actually not the case in these early weeks as they frantically looked for him.

The day after Serhiy surrendered, Russian information clips confirmed the captured Ukrainian marines from his brigade, their uniforms soiled and raveled. The household scoured the footage body by body till they noticed a partly obscured face, fingers raised and arms half bent, a household trait. It was Serhiy, they thought.

“This is him,” Anna remembers saying. They submitted screenshots of the video and his passport to a nationwide coordination heart as proof. Three months later, the Ukrainian authorities known as the Hrebinyks to say the Russians had confirmed Serhiy was in captivity.

Serhiy’s path to the army was an unlikely one. In college, he was a mean scholar. He performed soccer, wrestled and went fishing — usually with grand designs of a mighty catch, solely to return with sufficient just for the household cat. Serhiy stayed out of bother, principally, stated Olha Vlezko, 51, certainly one of his former lecturers. She spoke warmly of him.

Serhiy smiled loads. In his early teenage years, his face was boyish and spherical with welcoming dimples and a mop of brown hair. And he hardly ever talked to his siblings concerning the conflict within the east that started in 2014, not to mention preventing in it.

He was mobilized in 2019 for a yr of obligatory service that the majority Ukrainian males need to undertake. Then, unbeknown to his household, he signed a contract with the army six months later. His hair bought shorter, his cheeks sharper and extra pronounced. But in a single army portrait, Serhiy nonetheless regarded like a toddler in his uniform as he gripped a Kalashnikov rifle that appeared a little bit too huge.

“I used to be saddened, after all,” his father, Ihor, 51, sighed, recalling when Serhiy signed the contract. “He was younger then. Why did he go to serve?”

By Feb. 23, 2022, the day earlier than Russia launched its full-scale invasion, Serhiy was a tank mechanic within the thirty sixth Marine Brigade and aspired to climb the ranks. He had frolicked on the entrance on the outskirts of Mariupol as Ukrainian troops fought Russian-backed separatists there and was accustomed to the sounds of fight. Serhiy, then 22, immediately regarded a lot older on the eve of a far greater conflict.

“When we known as him on the twenty third of February, there was no expression on his face,” Anna stated. “We tried to cheer him up, however he didn’t present any emotion. He already knew there could be conflict.”

What occurred after Serhiy’s seize on April 12, 2022, stays murky, however the Hrebinyks have managed to scrape collectively a tough timeline from social media posts and from talking to Ukrainian troopers who had been launched in prisoner exchanges. These transfers have freed more than 3,000 Ukrainians to date, however have been rare at greatest and had been paused for a lot of 2023. Nevertheless, two exchanges this yr have given the household hope that Serhiy might be freed sooner slightly than later.

One launched captive, a Ukrainian marine who spoke on the situation of anonymity to guard these nonetheless in captivity, stated that he was captured alongside Serhiy. The marine’s legs had been wounded by rifle and mortar fireplace throughout an try to interrupt by means of the siege.

He was Serhiy’s good friend, he stated, and of their closing days of preventing, the 22-year-old from Trostyanets shared what little rations he may together with his wounded good friend.

“He introduced crackers, cookies and canned meals and requested how I used to be feeling,” the marine stated. “He helped me.” After they surrendered, the 2 had been taken to Olenivka, a jail in Russian-occupied Ukraine, the place they had been thrown into an open barracks room with round 90 different prisoners. They slept on no matter they might discover. They talked about cigarettes, dwelling and meals.

And they waited.

Serhiy was taken away for questioning and returned, solely to be transferred to a different jail. Masked males took him from the cell. “He stated goodbye to me, and that was it,” the marine stated.

A second Ukrainian captive handed on one other story to the Hrebinyks. He had met Serhiy in one other jail, in Kamyshin, a metropolis on the Volga River in western Russia. There, the story goes, many of the captives had caught tuberculosis, widespread in Russian prisons, however Serhiy had prevented the illness. Instead, he developed again points from the beatings doled out by his captors.

The data was useful, however probably the most concrete replace got here on Feb. 26, 2023. It was a video posted on Telegram from a Russian volunteer who visits Ukrainian prisoners. In it, Serhiy, who’s wearing a black collared shirt, stares on the digital camera together with his fingers on each legs. His head is shaved and he seems to be involved, as if he’s apprehensive about forgetting the script he’s about to recite.

“Hello Mom, Dad, sister, sister. Everything is ok with me. I’m in Russian captivity. They don’t beat me, they deal with us usually. I’ve nothing towards the Russian Federation. We are fed 3 times a day. I’ve sufficient. Good parts. I hope to return dwelling quickly. And every thing will probably be tremendous with us,” he says earlier than the video cuts off.

It was the final time the Hrebinyks noticed him, and time has marched on since his seize. Anna had a child boy and married. His grandfathers died. Svitlana is again working occasional nights on the practice station, and Simba, a grey cat, joined the household.

“We haven’t seen him for thus lengthy, so this video helps us a little bit,” stated Anna, who typically watches it earlier than she goes to mattress. “Every day we wait, and typically we think about what it might seem like when he walks by means of that door.”

Daria Mitiuk and Natalia Yermak contributed reporting.



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